Veteran tourism professional Sharon Flax-Brutus is the Director of Tourism for the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, a statutory body serving as the guiding unit for the development, marketing and promotion of the destination’s image, tourism product, and training.
Sharon Flax-Brutus’ confirmation to one of the Government’s top economic pillars is characteristic of her 30 plus years of experience garnered from working in diversified posts within the tourism industry in the British Virgin Islands, the Caribbean region and the United States.
Sharon has achieved notable accomplishments as the Director of Tourism that have been pivotal in strengthening and developing partnerships within the tourism sector regionally and internationally. Her portfolio includes sustainable and economic development initiatives along with the teaching and implementation of green practices for the accommodations sector; industry training and varied interactive tourism education programmes for youth interested in hospitality, culinary and tourism careers; the BVI became a member country of the International Institute for Peace.
Sharon played a key role in getting the Premier’s Office to submit a Cabinet Paper to negotiate an Air Services Agreement with VI Airlink for direct air service between BVI and Antigua; the Tourist Board successfully launched BVI Food Fete which features the Anegada Lobster Festival, a major food event on Anegada, which has brought an influx of over 1,000 visitors to the island over a two-day period; guest service greeter kiosks were established in St. Thomas Cyril E. King Airport and Wymoth L. Blyden Marine Terminal to assist travelers heading to the BVI; the first public relations representation in Latin America as well as France; as well as other inroads through the Tourist Board. Sharon has pioneered the BVI Guest Experience with the internationally recognized Disney Institute which seeks to define BVI hospitality.
Sharon holds a bachelor of science (B.S.) in hotel administration with a concentration in tourism development from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She obtained management training from luxury hoteliers in Mexico, the United States and London, U.K.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What motivated you to pursue a career in the travel industry?
Sharon Flax-Brutus (SFB): Having been involved in the hospitality industry from an early age as part of my family’s hospitality business, I have experience in seeing people making their real life dreams come true. I also wanted to make a difference in the bettering of the product offering in the BVI Community.
TRO: Tell us about your day-to-day role with the British Virgin Islands (BVI) Tourist Board.
SFB: My day includes interfacing with various government departments and agencies on tourism matters, and can include meetings with the National Parks Trust on park challenges that affect the guest experience, or meeting with the Ferry operators, as this is the #1 mode of transportation in the BVI. It can include public speaking opportunities to educate about tourism, as well as constant dialogue with BVI Team Members on the future of our organization and the future of tourism.
TRO: You have a history of promoting green and eco-tourism practices. What motivated you to develop sustainable tourism initiatives for the BVI?
SFB: We are a small Caribbean destination with limited land resources. As such, it is important that we protect our resources and natural beauty for future generations.
TRO: What truly makes the BVI unique and separates it from the rest of the Caribbean?
SFB: We are unique in that we are truly an island-hopping destination. The BVI is made up of 60 islands, islets, rocks and cays, which are in close proximity. Each one has its own personality, allowing one to enjoy different experiences. BVI is also known as the “sailing capital of the Caribbean”, so coupled with our private island resorts, a full array of land and water activities, as well as our commitment to excellent service, we are truly different and not for everyone.
We offer an authentic experience and plan to maintain the islands that way – where our resorts and hotels are no taller than coconut or palm trees and that there are no food franchises.
TRO: The Tourist Board recently launched the Anegada Lobster Festival. Can you tell us about the event and its inception?
SFB: The event was conceived 3 years ago by a team member and upon coming on board as Director, I was able to make the event a reality. The event celebrates the local Anegada lobster, which is the spiny lobster found in the Caribbean.
A two-day culinary festival is held on the shores of Anegada (the 3rd largest and only coral island in the chain) during the last weekend in November. The event was created to entice our community, visitors, new travellers, and the niche market of food connoisseurs to Anegada to experience our culinary offering and versatile tourism product. The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, together with the residents of Anegada, work closely to host the event each year. It features talented local chefs from 10-12 participating restaurants who are on hand to prepare, cook, and serve lobster dishes prepared in various ways. Local entertainment is available at the venues. The newest addition to the weekend is the Anegada Passport which showcases the historical and cultural sites and attractions created to add another element to the weekend of activities. Visitors who complete the Passport, by visiting all the sites and getting it stamped, receive a gift from the BVI Tourist Board.
TRO: How can the BVI Tourist Board help travel consultants ensure that their clients have the most authentic and relaxing experiences while on the islands?
SFB: The BVI Tourist Board operates as more than a Tourist Board. We offer very personalized assistance to travel agents and travelers who are seeking information about the BVI; it is more like a personal concierge service, as it represents who we are as BVI Islanders. As such, we encourage travel consultants to reach out to us so we can help them to curate these authentic and relaxing experiences for their clients.
TRO: What is your favorite travel destination to date?
SFB: Would you believe it’s actually Anegada? It is utopia for me and I call it my “blood pressure leveling spot”. Seafood is a favorite, especially lobster from Big Bamboo Restaurant.
TRO: What is on the horizon for the British Virgin Islands Tourist Board and the British Virgin Islands in general?
SFB: At the BVITB, we plan to continue our forward thrust to improving customer service across the islands and enhancing the product offering. We want to ensure that the vacation experience is one that will be memorable for our visitors so that they keep coming back.
For more information on British Virgin Islands Tourist Board, visit them online at www.bvitourism.com.